Ross Townshend, business manager EMEA – advanced services and data, with Ishida Europe, on the role remote monitoring of weighers and fillers can play in building a smart factory.
Fully automated ‘smart’ factories, with integrated systems and equipment and full data exchange throughout, can help businesses, both large multi-site and smaller single line operations, remain competitive by maximising throughput and efficiencies.
Detailed information also enables companies to manage their operations more profitably. Businesses need to know exactly how much it costs to get a product or pack out of the factory, and to be able to easily identify bottlenecks in production and areas where there are opportunities for improvement.
For weighing and filling equipment, an automated system minimises the requirement for manual intervention on the line. This delivers a cost benefit through a reduction in manpower but means that effective monitoring is required to ensure that a line continues to operate as efficiently as possible.
Today, there are software programmes available that can deliver this level of monitoring remotely, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Monitoring can be managed in-house or undertaken by the equipment supplier, providing a ‘virtual’ service back-up.
The system can provide clear, easily-digested daily or weekly reports, with the level of detail tailored to the appropriate audience – comprehensive performance figures for line engineers and overall output and efficiency levels for factory managers. The data can also be adapted to suit different types of production requirements, from high speed lines dealing with a single product to multi-product lines with shorter runs and many changeovers. All reports can be accessed remotely by computer, tablet or smartphone.
Equally important, the system can be designed to not just monitor the weighers but also identify potential issues upstream or downstream, and access and integrate other complementary equipment. This enables companies to move from being reactive to proactive with managers able to make ‘informed’ decisions, taking into account all other elements on the line, rather than tackling one particular problem without looking at the bigger picture.
In selecting an appropriate system, it is necessary to decide the level of support required in terms of day-to-day monitoring, and whether the full-time support of external engineers is required. Whatever the final decision, a high level of security is essential.
Automation keeps Clarks UK sweet
Riggs Autopack, has supported Clarks UK’s rapid growth journey of the last eight years with the phased automation of its filling operations.
Clarks UK is a family run producer of natural sweeteners, syrups and dessert sauces, and the UK’s best-selling maple syrup and natural sweetener brand.
Its range spans pure and blended maple syrups, honey, natural sweeteners like agave, carob fruit syrup, lower sugar ice cream sauces, natural coffee syrups and natural spreads. These are made in Clarks’ recently expanded, BRC approved Newport factory and supplied to most major retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-Op, Morrisons, Ocado and Lidl, as well as restaurant chains, food service, catering wholesalers and food manufacturers.
Clarks’ relationship with Riggs Autopack started back in 2009 when it purchased its first semi-automatic depositor to accurately fill squeezy bottles. This was followed in 2011 by the purchase of a second depositor and Clarks began looking into ways to automate production beyond semi-automatic machines to cope with increasing sales and demand.
In 2012 a major automation upgrade saw the arrival of a Riggs Autopack four-head automatic conveyor filling line with scroll feed system; this enabled Clarks to significantly expand production in line with increasing demand.
Clarks continued to grow as the UK’s appetite for maple syrup and natural sweeteners continued to increase. A factory expansion in 2014 led the company to purchase a three-head automatic filling machine to run as a second conveyor filling line, supplementing the capacity provided by its existing four-head filling line.
In 2016, these two filling lines were upgraded with automatic capping machines. In addition, Clarks significantly increased capacity by investing in another Riggs Autopack automatic scroll feed system and gated filling line with automatic capping. This six-head filling machine allowed Clarks to yet again increase production to match sales demands. The two original two semi-automatic depositors are still employed as off-line machines, along with a new bulk filling depositor for foodservice and catering tubs.
Clarks continues to invest in marketing, NPD and the production technology required to underpin its continued growth, and says Riggs Autopack is key to these plans.
Bob Clark, managing director of Clarks UK, says: “We have worked with Riggs Autopack for a number of years. Riggs Autopack works closely with us to really understand our requirements.”
Top of the pots: tips on how to get the most out of your filling line
James Causebrook, sales and commercial director at Grunwald UK, is a qualified design engineer with 15 years’ experience in the automated filling machine industry. Here he shares a few tips on how to get the best performance out of pot filling machines.
1: Engage with your machinery supplier. Discuss with them your requirements and expectations. They should have the expertise to get your pot filler working to its highest capability and continue this for the lifetime of the machine.
2: Make sure food development technicians speak directly to the filling equipment supplier, ensuring an understanding on what products can and can’t be automated and why, as well as working together to get the best output from the machine for the specific product.
3: Think about how the machine you are buying is going to be utilised – this is crucial to maximising output. There are two extremes: a machine used entirely for long continuous runs, and a machine that is only used for short runs of various products in different pot sizes. These two extremes mean a choice between maximum automation with minimal line intervention and flexibility.
4: Identify which ‘extras’ will add value to your production. For a machine that is going to be used primarily for long, continuous runs, automating as many processes as possible is key to achieving maximum output. Adding CIP, SIP, in-line fruit mixing, an automatic packer, a traverse unit and extendable cup and lid storage are some of the extras that can be worthwhile additions in achieving highest production results. A machine that will be used for various pot sizes and products might benefit from the addition of extra hoppers, quick change parts and the easy access for cleaning.
5: Make sure machine operators have the highest level of training available. At Grunwald our dedicated service engineer aims to see every one of our UK machines every three months, not only to inspect the machine, but to support the machine operators.
6: Prioritise routine maintenance. It protects the investment you’ve made in the machine as well as keeping your machine running to its optimum performance. Having a machine down for scheduled maintenance is much more economical than having
a break down when orders need to be met.
7: Use genuine spare parts; make sure you have a critical spares parts list and keep these in stock.
Filling, dosing and weighing – new technology round-up
Italian equipment manufacturer Sacmi has developed a new generation of can fillers, available in two designs: traditional isobaric and electronic. On the electronic machine, filling is managed via a flow rate meter and both filling process control and cleaning are fully automated. On both models the cans rest on a static support, without any need for lifting jacks. For maximum sealing performance and process precision, the lower part of the filling valve is designed to drop directly onto the can. Configurable with between 40 and 78 valves, the fillers can reach output rates of between 24,000 and 66,000 containers per hour (33cl format).
Krones’ new Dynafill beer filler combines filling and crowning in a single unit, halving not just the equipment footprint but also the time that would usually be required for these two processes. The system is also said to be greener and faster than conventional machines, cutting the amount of CO2 consumed for flushing by 20% and the filling time per bottle to 0.5 seconds.
IMA Dairy & Food has responded to rising demand for format flexibility with the Gyro Cup, a new filling and sealing machine for switching between different products and sizes and shapes of cups or tubs. Thanks to a single platform utilising as many standard components as possible, it can accommodate a large range of container profiles and shapes, says IMA. Another innovation to come out of IMA’s R&D effort is the Ermetika – a high speed, continuous motion rotary machine for filling and sealing pre-made spouted pouches.
Serac’s Combox unit, which combines a PET linear blower with a rotary weight filling machine, is now available in an aseptic version. Serac says this offers new opportunities for the dairy and beverages industry, by providing a low to medium work-rate solution for applications using pH neutral and acidic products. It can handle up to 12,000 one-litre or 18,000 250ml PET bottles per hour.
Grunwald UK’s R&D has been focusing on the development of servo control on its automatic cup filling and sealing machines, providing customers with optimum filling control. It says that by improving control of the filling process it has reduced the speed differential for varying products regardless of their viscosity. Development of its weigh scales, fitted either before or after the containers have been filled, has resulted in increased weight accuracy of 0.2% for buckets and 0.4% for pots.
Mengibar UK has developed filling and capping monoblocks with ‘swirl fillers’ for creating a two-tone effect in personal care and beauty products. The company’s ‘multi stream’ technology has the ability to control the flow of multiple product streams simultaneously, enabling the creation of artistic patterns within the container.
Spanish company AiCROV, represented by Engelmann & Buckham in the UK, has designed a new automatic filling line for IBC containers and drums, with a capacity of 90-120 drums per hour. The system allows two drums to be filled simultaneously, reducing filling time, and uses vision-driven robots to transport the drums through the various processes (filling, bunging, de-bunging and sealing). Filling is performed via a proportional filling system, that calculates in real time the required flow, ensuring maximum filling precision and efficiency.
The new RVE series of mid-range multihead weighers from Ishida Europe promises high performance on free-flowing and semi-sticky products for a large number of dry, fresh and frozen food applications. Ishida says this is partly due to several technology features from its top-of-the-range RV multihead weighers, including programmable digital filtering and advanced automatic feeder adjustment. The RVE range is available in 10, 14, 16 and 20 head models – with a broad selection of radial troughs, hoppers (from three to seven litres) and discharge chutes.